amarchinthevines

Learning about wine, vines and vignerons whilst living in the Languedoc


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2019 – Favourite fortified and sparkling wines

I really like Champagne and whilst I had some good examples this year nothing stood out especially. Two sparkling wines made an impression however. I have enjoyed a number of PetNats but my favourite of the year was Les Vignes de Babass Brutal 17, made by Sébastien Dervieux in the natural wine hotspot of Anjou. Part of the pleasure of sparkling wine is sharing it and the circumstance in which it is consumed and this admittedly benefitted from being drunk at a vendanges lunch. I loved the fresh citrus flavours and a richness from the Chenin Blanc. Cleansing yet satisfying.

When I first moved to the Languedoc Crémant De Limoux wines always seemed to disappoint me. I discovered the very good sparkling Limoux wines of Monsieur S a few years ago and they changed my opinion of the are and this more favourable impression was confirmed by Gilles Azam’s Les Hautes Terres Crémant De Limoux Josephine. Lighter than the Babass with fresh citrus flavours this was a really successful wine.

Again the Crémant wine benefitted from being drunk between those of us who worked together with Jeff Coutelou in the vendanges.

A trip to the Douro in February was one of the year’s highlights and I tasted a number of lovely Port wines. A very good lunch at Graham’s lodge in Porto culminated in a splendid tasting of old tawny ports including this splendid 6l bottle of the 20 year old tawny. High in the hills of the Douro valley I was able to taste a magnificent Quinta do Beijo 1963 white port which was liquid gold, incredibly rich and fresh.

A real contestant for my wine of the year was from the magnificent Cota 45 range. These are sherries made without being fortified and I was unsure whether to include them in the white wine selection or in this post. They are made from Palomino grapes and aged in barrel and taste like a sherry but without fortification they are lighter and fresher and incredibly long. This is a traditional method of making sherry which has all but disappeared. I loved them, bought some and continue to love them. Agostado Palo Cortado 2016 was my favourite but it could be any of them.

However, even this magnificent bottle was surpassed by another wine shared at a vendanges lunch. My friend Steeve brought along a bottle of Michel Gahier’s Vin Jaune 2010 from his native Jura. It was truly amazing. Every drop had a fresh salinity to balance the rich oxidised notes. Golden in the glass, mouth filling with amazing complexity which grew on the palate for a long time. We were all stunned into silence as we drank it. When Jeff is blown away by a wine you know it is something special. A very special bottle, one I will remember vividly for a long time.


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Real Wine Fair 2019 #1

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One of the best wine tasting events I have attended, perhaps the sunshine and warmth put me in a good mood but I know that my thoughts were echoed by many others. Real Wine Fair is organised by Caves De Pyrène the merchant which has done so much to promote organic, biodynamic and natural wines in the UK. It took place in Tobacco Dock the same venue as a couple of years ago when I attended. There are two large halls offering plenty of space, break out areas for food stands and a useful shop as well as rooms for masterclasses. It was interesting to read tweets by Jamie Goode and Oz Clarke, probably the two wine writers who have influenced me most, praising the event, the enthusiasm of the producers and the way in which natural wines are continuing their growth and influence despite the expectations of some that they would fall away as a fashion trend.

Castagna

Chatting with the excellent Julian Castagna (more next time)

I tasted just under 200 wines from producers in 17 countries of the 23 represented at RWF. That such a broad spectrum gathered together is, I believe, proof of how wine is changing, producers are looking to make wine in as clean and environmentally sound ways as possible all around the world. Countries such as Germany, which were well behind the natural wine trend of France, Italy and Spain, were well represented. Interestingly most of the producers from these countries were young, enthusiastic and eager to learn.

One of the welcome sights of the Fair was to see the number of producers tasting around the stands of colleagues from different countries. I was privileged to be in a discussion with producers from New Zealand, Australia, and the Languedoc comparing their thoughts and methodology. I saw many other such exchanges. This can only be a benefit. A well known French producer lauding a German Riesling to its young producer was one more example.

Gareth

Gareth Belton

It was also good to catch up with friends. Corinne and Carole Andrieu from Clos Fantine and Gareth Belton of Gentle Folk are people I have visited with in recent times and got to know a little.

I do not intend to publish long descriptions of dozens of wines though I shall write about some of the many wines and producers which excited me. However, let me start with just 3 wines, my podium wines for the event. Bear in mind that I tasted with less than a quarter of the producers present, I imagine that I missed out on some other fabulous wines.

My wine of the event was a sherry, though not a typical sherry. Cota 45‘s Agostado Palo Cortado 2016 is not fortified as sherries are these days. Is it a sherry? Is it a wine? Whatever, it is brilliant. This is an old, traditional method of wine production and its producer Ramiro Ibanez Espinar explained to me that he is making wines rooted in history. I would add that he is making wines of immense quality. The other Cota 45 wines were excellent but Agostado stood out for me.

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A Palo Cortado in style but made from only 10% Palomino , the usual sherry grape. Older varieties make up the majority, grapes such as Mantuo Castellano and Perruno. That is music to my ears of course, being a devotee of rare grapes. The wine is made under flor but then allowed to age oxidatively, hence the obvious sherry style. Since it is not fortified though Agostado is lighter, fresher than other Palo Cortados, much as I love that style of sherry. This was a revelation to me but my ranking as wine of the Fair is based on sheer quality rather than novelty.

De Moor

Alice De Moor in demand

Alice De Moor has built an enviable reputation in the natural wine world for her excellent Chablis. I had tasted some before, I particularly enjoy her Aligoté wines. However at this event it was the Chablis which really shone and the Chablis 1er Cru Mont De Milieu 2017 in particular. The De Moors have suffered from frost damage a lot in recent vintages so this is a welcome example of their own skill in growing and making top Chablis. Fresh, zesty and mineral. Yes, mineral. I know the science says soils don’t make it into the flavour of wine but this Chablis reflects the limestone soils of the vineyard. It doesn’t make sense but it’s true. And then plenty of fruit and a round, almost creamy, nutty flavour. This will age well for sure and develop more complexity but it is a superb wine even in its relative infancy.

Schmitt

And completing the podium? Another white wine, the Riesling I mentioned above (which incidentally was being praised by the very same Alice De Moor). The wine was Riesling M 2017 from Weingut Schmitt. Bianka Schmitt explained to me that this was picked slightly later than their other Rieslings and spends a year in old oak. It was a stunner. Aromas ranging from floral to citrus, initial flavours of zest, yellow and green fruitgums. However, what made the wine stand out was what happened next. The wine continued to release flavours even after I had swallowed the liquid (some wines you just do not spit). Lingering melon, grapefruit and even tropical fruits grew and developed for a full minute. I love Riesling and this was a truly special example of its complexity and generosity.

I shall focus on more top bottles and ranges of wines in the next couple of articles. Interesting to note that my friend David Crossley selected the first two of these wines amongst his favourites, that gives me confidence that I made wise choices.

I should register my thanks to Doug Wregg and his team for such an excellent event.